By Ishtiaq Ahmed:
In spite of her 85 years, Kamini Kaushal was exceptionally eloquent as she shared her phenomenal down-the-memory-lane fund of stories about Lahore.
As I continue probing the Lahore-Bombay film industry linkage, the pre-partition Lahore legend grows larger and more fascinating. “It was the city of cycles; everywhere you could see people on cycles, we girls went around on cycles”, recalled the famous Lahore-born Indian film industry actress, Kamini Kaushal (born Uma Kashyap on January 16, 1927) when I spoke to her on the phone from Stockholm on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. I spoke to another Lahorite, Shyama as well. This week, we look at Kamini Kaushal’s roots in Lahore. I must acknowledge with gratitude the kind help of Ajay Deshpande who arranged the interviews for me.The interview with Kamini Kaushal alternated between Lahore Punjabi and that very familiar English accent that many generations acquired who went to one of the English-medium schools and colleges in pre-partition Lahore and well into the early decades afterwards and perhaps, still do.
Kamini Kaushal made her debut Neecha Nagar (1946) directed by the old Ravian and elder brother of Dev Anand, Chetan Anand. It was the very first Indian film based on social realism to gain international recognition. It shared the best film award, the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Thereafter followed memorable hits like Ziddi (1948) with Dev Anand; Aag with Raj Kapoor and four with the thespian Dilip Kumar: Shaheed (1948), Nadiya Ke Paar (1949), Shabnam (1949) and Arzoo (1950). She was awarded the 1956 Filmfare award for best actress in Biraj Babu. In the 1960s, Kamini Kaushal began to play character roles and that stint continued till 2003. She has continued to appear in television serials up until now. She also became famous as an author of children’s books.
In spite of her 85 years, Kamini Kaushal was exceptionally eloquent as she shared her phenomenal down-the-memory-lane fund of stories about Lahore. Her love for Lahore came out forcefully, yet most gentling, when she said “Lahore is home, will always be. It always remains with me as a constant companion wherever I am. Often times, I wander away in my thoughts to Lahore because so many of the finest memories are associated with that petite city. My father was a professor of botany at the Government College, Lahore. We lived at Chauburji. I studied at the Lady Mc Clagan Girls’ High School, which was not far from where we lived and later at the Kinnaird College from where I did my BA honours in English Literature”, she told me.
Kamini Kaushal has visited Lahore thrice after India was divided in mid-August 1947. About her longing for Lahore, she said, “Since Lahore was always in my thoughts, my mother and brother told me to visit Lahore, and in 1962, I got the first chance to return to my roots. I went to our house. The new residents were our old neighbours who used to live across the road, and whom we knew very well. They met me with great kindness and emotions. They had known my father and respected him, as he was a famous academician of Lahore. In those days, people had great respect for educators and doctors. Society was so much more humane. We never thought in terms of Hindu or Muslim. I was amazed that the sculptures, pictures and many furniture items that we had left behind were exactly in the same place after all those years. I had a very close friend, Jamila, who lived close to our home in Chauburji. She had moved to Karachi. Jamila was contacted and she immediately came to Lahore and we met again. It was a very moving reunion.”
About her second and third visits — Kamini Kaushal could not ascertain the exact years — but on both occasions, it had to do with celebrations at Government College, Lahore and her alma mater, Kinnaird College. She told me that Mian Nawaz Sharif, a Ravian, was in power when she visited Government College. She said, “We went to my father’s office. All his things he had left behind were still there including the inkpot. After a while, they left me alone so that I could feel for myself the old atmosphere. It was amazing really. It almost felt he was somewhere in the room and would come back any time. As a child, I used to visit him and then played around in the corridors, and also went swimming. It was truly spiritual. I felt he would walk in any time.
During the Kinnaird College celebrations, many former students from India also came. It was a very emotional reunion as many of us had lost contact. Before partition, there were a few Muslim girls at the Kinnaird College. However, some of them who used to study with us were also there. It was truly a very important event in my life.
My daughter went to Lahore in 2004 to attend the famous cricket match. She was also keen to see our house since she was born there. Alas, by that time, it had been demolished and instead, a shopping mall had popped up. Our house is no more but home, Lahore, is still there and will always be.”
I called Kamini Kaushal twice later to ascertain the years of her second and third visit to Lahore, but she could not remember exactly. She believed the second trip was to Government College and the third to Kinnaird College. My own hunch is that it was the other way round. She invited me to visit her next time I came to India.